Six Must-Have PR Skills for the Modern Communicator

Breakenridge Headshot

Summer is almost over and it’s back to school for many, whether you’re entering a full-time PR program or looking to expand your professional experience with continuing education. What knowledge and skills can help you advance your career and gain a competitive edge?

Evergreen skills such as strong persuasion, writing, speaking, negotiation, and―my personal favorite―relationship-building should always be present in your PR practices. These skills are timeless, regardless of the latest technology or changes to the media landscape. PR professionals should always be accountable for their communications and conduct themselves ethically on behalf of the organizations they represent. Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook shouldn’t change your ethical conduct.

But what about some of the newer PR skills required to navigate a PR Tech ecosystem that’s focused on emerging technologies, data and measurement? Knowledge within these areas can help you advance as a modern communicator who operates nimbly in a fast-paced, diverse and global landscape.

Here are six skills for modern communicators who want to stay sharp and stand out:

1. Data Literacy: After an in-depth conversation with Allyson Hugley, President of Measurement & Analytics at Weber Shandwick, I see PR and data more integrated than I did previously. As Allyson mentioned in the interview, “We’re moving beyond conceptual knowledge. Many PR pros are dipping their toes in the water when it comes to data, which is a fantastic start and more so than in years past.”

However, surface knowledge isn’t enough. You have to understand where the data comes from, how to capture it, the different variables that affect the data, its reliability and the evaluation of datasets―together―for a more fulsome picture of your business. It’s not enough to just accept data analytics in a vacuum. Instead, be more hands-on and work closely with others to understand how the data tells a story.

2. Global Collaboration: Today’s companies operate in a global environment. Even as “local” as you may think you are, social media helps your brand transcend borders and boundaries. You’re no longer just speaking to a single group on Facebook. Members can take your conversation and content and share it across multiple platforms, sending it anywhere in the world. Being global means you have to be much more aware of cultures, diversity and diplomacy.

A customer who received care that lacked empathy and sensitivity can easily express their disappointment on social networks regardless of their geographic location. It’s important to recognize that participating on social media extends your reach and collaboration, but also requires additional monitoring to track real-time social and mainstream media conversations. Organizations can benefit from the borderless markets but need to be continuously listening to social conversations to help avoid the consequences of not being skilled with a global perspective.

3. Competence with Social Media & Emerging Technologies: Having expertise in social media is a sought-after skill. Companies want to attract young professionals out of colleges and universities who have an excellent working knowledge of social media and feel comfortable with new technologies. Millennials are being hired as social media managers, specialists and analysts.

Whether you’re a Millennial or Generation X, it’s important to know how social media can affect business. Additionally, having a strong working knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), live video streaming, machine learning, and virtual reality (VR) is certainly a plus. Companies also look for professionals who understand mobile technologies and newer platforms where brands have opportunities to engage with their consumers.

4. Adaptability: About 15 years ago, I worked with a PR veteran who was a seasoned media relations professional. We called him our "media slam dunker". He was our top media pitcher who could deliver any publication for a client. That’s right, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, and the Today Show were easy to secure. He was a storyteller and knew how to build the best relationships with journalists. Unfortunately, as technology changed the scope of our media targets, he wasn’t as comfortable connecting and building relationships with bloggers and engaging through new media outlets. Eventually, he left our firm and his last words to me were that he wanted to finish his career on a high note and familiar terms.

Media continues to evolve. Every brand is becoming a media company. Traditional media outlets now have online subscription models, and journalists are blogging and creating communities around their stories and reporting. Adaptability is an essential skill for PR professionals in order to morph, change and navigate this environment based on the media and consumer news consumption. Like a chameleon, you can benefit by adapting to changing circumstances and shifting media environments.

5. Self-Control: Tensions run high on social media. If you’re in public relations, words have meaning and consequences. Let me repeat this … words have meaning and consequences! Handling communication on behalf of your organization or your professional brand means possessing an emotional quotient, empathy and self-control. The larger your digital footprint, the more open you are to opinions and criticism; it comes with the nature of social media territory and the rise of citizen journalists.

At the same time, your customers have high expectations and immediate demands. They are more vocal on your social media properties praising you when they’re happy and leaving a trail of less than flattering comments when they’re not. However, right or wrong, happy or sad, you have to maintain self-control. There is no excuse for “firing back” or letting off steam. And, you can’t get away with “It was sarcasm" or “It’s just a joke.” Self-control today is paramount to keep the conversations on social media headed in a positive direction.

6. Sociology & Psychology: The social sciences are fundamental in the field of PR. Knowledge in these areas helps you to understand the reasons why people behave and act the way they do. Sometimes we get caught up in the quantitative data as opposed to the more qualitative data. We need to be in tune with the emotions and feelings shared when people interact in their communities.

Understanding the emotional connections and how these emotions drive behavior is an important science. PR professionals talk a lot about performance analytics, taking a quantitative approach to the way people engage. But understanding the psychology and the sociology behind actions, especially the way people behave in groups, helps you to offer valuable communication to your audience and a better experience.

It’s a brave new world, which requires modern communicators who have new knowledge and a different skill set. The future of PR rests in the hands of the professionals who are learning, advancing and sharpening the skills in their new PR toolkit.

Deirdre Breakenridge is CEO of Pure Performance Communications. She is an international speaker and trainer, podcaster, LinkedIn Learning instructor and an adjunct professor and online instructor at UMass Amherst and Rutgers University. Her most recent book, Answers for Modern Communicators, A Business Guide to Communication, will be published by Routledge in October 2017.

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